What Home Assistants See and Hear

You may have heard that home assistants listen to everything you say and watch everything you do. Is that true and, if so, what are the dangers?

What is a home assistant? An Amazon Echo Show is a home assistant, as is a Google Home. There are others and your smartwatch or mobile phone can even act as a home assistant.

On the positive side, these devices can be a very valuable addition to our daily lives. They can answer questions. They can read or show the news. They can tell you the calendar entries you have for the week or give you a recipe. You can have a video call with your grandchildren that live out of state. A family member can check on you to see how you look.

On the negative side, they listen and, if they have a camera, it’s possible they watch, too.

What are they listening for? They listen to everything, but usually only react when they hear a keyword or trigger. For some mobile devices like an Apple watch, they react to movement without a keyword or trigger. (That can be controlled in your settings.)

Is there someone listening to everything they hear? No. Does someone occasionally listen to what the devices hear? Yes. In most instances, someone listens to do diagnostics on the platform, or device family. However, that occurrence is not very frequent, and odds are, they won’t be listening to yours.

Do I own one? Yes, I have an Amazon Echo Show. It’s on the nightstand by my bed. The camera has a shutter that physically blocks the camera lens. No one can see anything… period.

What do I use it for? It plays internet radio so I can listen to any station anywhere in the world that has a web presence. I have it display the Ring cameras I have outside the house. I can answer the doorbell using it. I can call 911 using it. I can make phone calls from it. I can get the weather. I can play music on it using several streaming services. I can ask it questions and it does a remarkable job answering them. I can have it tell me a joke or play a game.

I also have it set so it deletes everything it has heard every 30 days. Do I worry about it listening? Not really. But I’m aware that it does listen.

For me, the benefits outweigh the risks. It is a personal decision and one you shouldn’t make lightly.

Jarren Ringle is a member of SourcePoint and a volunteer instructor. He teaches various technology classes throughout the year. Jarren also volunteers at the Delaware County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. With many years of project management experience in various technology fields, he enjoys helping others with technology.